“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
― George Carlin
With 30 Major League Baseball teams, ownership isn’t exactly a large group, per se. But it is exclusive. And with that exclusivity comes a sort of insulation. When you’re holding a billion dollar playing card, who cares what anyone else thinks? You have a billion dollars for crying out loud.
So here we are. There’s an unrelenting global pandemic that is on the uptick in some states. Meanwhile, there’s a movement that has, with Black Lives Matter, sparked a long-overdue discussion on racism, inequality and injustice in America. This country is in turmoil. Days feel like months. Months feel like years. To use a baseball metaphor, this year is like seeing a 69 mph Zack Greinke curve when you’re looking for the heat. We took a mighty cut, missed and now we’re knocked on our collective ass.
America doesn’t really need baseball. We’re quite preoccupied with other important shit, thank you very much.
That’s not to say we couldn’t use baseball. A little distraction would be nice right about now. That’s what sports are, ultimately—a nice way to shove your problems or troubles to a dusty corner of your mind for a few hours. It’s trite and it’s cliché, but it feels like it needs to be said as Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association do their tango. The league’s proposal on Friday was basically the same as their other offers. The numbers may change, the math does not. The league is offering 72 games at a pro-rated salary of 70 percent. The pro-rated percentage bumps to 80 if the playoffs (where the real money is made) are completed. This is basically the same amount if the league unilaterally mandates a 50-odd game season at the already-negotiated full salary.
These negotiations are a flat circle.
Ownership: There will be no fans, so we must pro-rate our previous agreement. Bottom line, we propose you will earn one-third of your contract.
Players: That’s not good enough. Pro-rata!
Ownership: Fine. We think paying three-tenths of your contract is a fair deal.
Ownership: OK. We propose to pay 33 cents to the dollar.
These “negotiations” are being held by email, with ownership’s proposals leaking to the media before they even reach the Player’s Association. It’s fitting the response from the PA to every single offer has been “LOL.”
In an unrelated development Saturday, reports surfaced that MLB has renegotiated their postseason television deal with Turner for seven years and over $3.25 billion. Take a moment and re-read the previous sentence. Over $3.25 billion. Billion. B…B…B…Billion. To put games on television. For chrissakes, read the room.
Turns out that even with the game shut down the cash registers are ringing. Loudly. The Player’s Association is submitting proposals that show a willingness to negotiate in what could be considered good faith but are taking a hard line when it comes to the amount of salary they will earn. That’s already been negotiated. Meanwhile, the owners are crying poverty (they barely break even!) and are offering the same thing again and again.
Maybe baseball is an awful investment. We don’t need to see the books. Their word is fiscal gospel. To paraphrase a used car salesman, “Trust them.”
The negotiations resemble a Yankees/Red Sox Sunday night game. It’s the only game in town, lasts what feels like a lifetime and the outcome is wholly unsatisfying.
If the owners truly gave a damn about the sport, they would seek to play as many games as possible before a full slate of playoff games. A 48 game season has zero legitimacy. A 48 game season unilaterally imposed by MLB has... what’s less than zero? (Eno Sarris did the math at The Athletic and found that 60 games was more or less the break-even point.)
As a fan, if the Royals played a 48 game season, would you give a damn if they made October tournament? An illegitimate season followed by a playoff? It’s like the league is perfectly fine perverting their product on the altar of the almighty dollar. I’ve thought about this a lot the last several days. The Royals, as I’m sure you know, are not supposed to be good in 2020. They are in the nascent stages of what promises to be a lengthy rebuild. There are at least three other teams in their division that are currently stronger. If there was a full 162 game schedule, they have next to no chance to advance.
But in a season of 48 games? All bets are off. Certainly, it could be thrilling. It would totally be a welcome distraction noted above. But would you ultimately care? Because, on the back of a shortened season, would it matter? I imagine it would be like being a fan of the eighth seed in the NBA playoffs. It’s cool you’re there, but the purpose of your presence is to be a patsy. That’s no one’s idea of fun.
Then, there was this beauty from Saturday:
Here’s Major League Baseball’s statement.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 14, 2020
With that phrase accusing the union of failing to bargain in good faith, it’s practically written to present to an arbitration panel the moment a grievance is filed. pic.twitter.com/u5vtriPsVT
This statement would require a whole article to dissect. But for ownership to accuse the PA of not negotiating in “good faith” requires some top-level suspension of disbelief. And for the owners to point the finger at players and basically accuse them of taking food off the plates of other club employees is just beyond the pale. Some of these clubs in this billion dollar industry are refusing to pay their minor leaguers $400 a month, have burned down their scouting departments and fuloughed hundreds of employees, but it’s the players who are the bad guys here.
But this is public relations, and since 2016 we are living in a world where “alternate facts” can reside along the truth, apparently. Feel free to say whatever you want. Lie. Deceive. It doesn’t matter. You just need to get enough people to believe your bullshit and you can win the battle for public favor. And isn’t that what it’s all about? At least for the owners it is, who are more than happy to turn the attention of the fans away from their profits at the expense of how they feel about their product. It’s absurdly short-sighted, but it’s always the game the owners play. Pay no attention to the suits and the piles of money lining their pockets! The players are the greedy bastards here! They only care about their paychecks!
Never side with ownership.
As 2020 stretches into what feels like it’s second decade (what? It’s only June?) the calendar is the common enemy. You figure it will take a week to assemble the players to prepare for whatever we’re going to call Spring Training. (Summer Camp, anyone?) Players will need three weeks to get to game speed. There will be taxi squads, expanded rosters and a start date that falls sometime now in mid-July at the earliest. And as ownership follows up counter proposals that offer nothing fresh, understand they’re basically running out the clock. They’re playing the Dean Smith four corners with negotiations. The more they stall, the fewer games will be played, and that’s really the point. Fewer games saves ownership money and gets to the potential cash cow of the postseason faster. They think their offers push the public to their side because the public always blames the players. It’s the long con.
At some point, the league will unilaterally implement a starting date and a schedule. The players will earn their full salaries. The games will be played in empty stadiums. The damage will have been done. And this is just a dress rehearsal for the true nuclear winter after the current CBA expires following the 2021 season.
We’ve been without baseball now for almost three months. How much can you miss something, as a fan, like a sport? This may sound strange considering we’re about as passionate baseball as can possibly be, but when something that isn’t a basic need is removed from your life, it turns out you adapt. You’re not on your couch at 7:05 in tears because the channel guide doesn’t list a game. Instead maybe you’re outside, or streaming something, or reading a book. Lately, you may be at a protest. The point is, you find something to fill the void. If you go back, you’ll realize you missed the rhythms and sights and sounds of the game. But did you really miss it?
And when baseball comes back, you have a choice to make. Do you throw yourself again into the sport you love, but doesn’t love you back?